Automotive Revisionism

In 2007, Time magazine did a feature on the 50 worst cars of all time. One of the cars named–along with the 1958 Ford Edsel and the 1970 AMC Gremlin–was the 1909 Model T.

Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let’s stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation’s economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

I wonder if the author of this piece made any attempt to imagine what life might have been like for a farm family in 1909–perhaps several miles from the nearest neighbor, 20 miles from town, with travel only by foot or by horse/wagon over muddy roads–and what the introduction of the Model T might have meant to such a family. Somehow, I doubt it. I also wonder if he has devoted any thought to what conditions might be like in a large city which is highly dependent on horse transportation. Again, it seems unlikely.

Too many members of our class of scribes and jesters–journalists, novelists, entertainers, professors–feel the need to put down any and all achievements of our civilization, be they the plays of Shakespeare, the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of low-cost automobiles, or the victories of WWII and the Cold War. In many cases, I feel sure, this impulse arises from their own creative sterility.

Innovation and entrepreneurship will go where they are appreciated. They will not thrive in a society in which they are demonized and in which endless obstacles are put in their path.

I saw a letter somewhere by an electrical engineer who has been working on the development of small-scale hydroelectric plants in Africa. He said he likes working on these projects because of the joy on the faces of the local people when their little hydro plant is activated. If he were working on power development in the U.S., he would have gotten a lot less positive feedback and a lot more verbal abuse.

See also Roger Simon: will the next Edison come from China?

6 thoughts on “Automotive Revisionism”

  1. Great piece. There is never a shortage of critics. No matter how much you give people, there will always be some who feel they deserve more.

    But some people do appreciate innovation and entrepreneurship when they see it. They know how hard it is, and can see not only where a project is but where it is going.

    As you say, focus on them.

  2. We will inevitably be crippled by our pseudo-intellectual class turning on our own society. There selfish desire for power and status causes them to denigrate absolutely everything about America and Western civilization in general. China and India by contrast are overflowing with cultural positivism just like America was before the 60’s.

    I fear we have entered cultural senesce just as Europe did following WWI. We will no longer be the land of innovation in business, technology or culture.

    There fact that hatred of our accomplishments find expression even in an automotive review is very troubling.

  3. Well the internet is going to weaken MSM and the “intellectuals”,that is, those who currently make their living batting around words. The barriers to entry are much lower now and bloggers with interesting ideas are going to eat their lunch. Academia is ecoming less relevent. Face it,many of the old guard have ideas that are about as interesting and useful as those that may be found at Al Azhar university. The public is sick of these negative people.

  4. Renminbi…academia still has the privilege of being the gatekeeper, though…indeed, the increased emphasis on educational credentials has greatly increased its power.

  5. We live in one of those ages where a detachment from reality is becoming the norm among those with “education.”

    Since we live in a country where beliefs such as “breeding and heterosexuality are not the normative,” can be spewed with conviction, is it any wonder that postmodern pseudo-intellectual cretins don’t get that we are the beneficiaries of a century of technological progress? True poetic justice would be to have these people die of rubella, typhus, cholera, polio, and just plain old infections brought back to modern life by reckless immigration from still pre-modern societies and hysteria about vaccinations.

  6. This is one of the existential problems of our age. Technology has wrought marvels of such efficacy and awesomeness that we no longer appreciate them. We re-zero the scale so that the wondrous boons of the automobile, refrigeration, antibiotics, electrification, etc. are expected rather than appreciated and zealously guarded.

    Amongst all the inventions of mankind, the automobile has perhaps done the most to better the lot of the individual than any other, perhaps even including medicine. It has come at a cost, a cost that we still have yet to fully appreciate, but the benefits have been tremendous. Before the automobile it was by far the most common case that spouses were born less than 20 miles from each other. And that’s hardly the extent to which the automobile has changed the life of and empowered the individual.

    If a technology as profoundly empowering as the automobile can be so casually vilified then our modern society is on quite shaky foundations indeed.

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